By GIACOMO MATTEI
On stage last Sunday at the Orpheum, the music group called Milestones, comprised of three UT students and two local musicians, performed energetically. Their enthusiasm was tangible. Milestone’s biggest gig yet was opening for Hawthorne Heights, a post-hardcore band repeatedly charting Billboard with songs like Nikki FM and Ohio is for Lovers.
Performing for a few hundred people and sharing the stage with a renowned band like Hawthorne Heights was a definite step forward in their career. Although some things did not go according to plan, the band was quick on its feet and adjusted, saying that quick thinking and adaptation are part of the game.
The five young men of Milestones (vocalist Nick Mitchell, guitarists Tyler Ohnmacht and Congyi Liang, bassist Cristian Pagan and drummer Bryan Sarmiento) comprise one of the youngest bands in the post-hardcore community in the Tampa Bay Area. Most of the players are also full-time university students, three of whom are freshmen at UT: Mitchell is majoring in music, Liang in international business, and Sarmiento in both. Additionally, because bands are businesses, they must manage the work as well.
Despite being an official band for just 20 months, they are building upon their experiences and becoming increasingly successful. According to Mitchell, “We’re [successful] because we take [the band] seriously.” The members are extraordinarily passionate about what they do, but their lives are not just about fun, games and concerts.
The Milestones try to balance their priorities, but they ultimately live by the motto: “band first, everything else second.” They reason that this band is is their calling and the chance of a lifetime. Before a concert, the Milestones practice rigorously for three weeks. After the show, they reprioritize school.
Immediately after the band’s first show, in Odessa in 2014, they understood that to reach their goal of being successful in the industry, they needed to be more than a group of friends that plays music together. Tips from other bands helped: the Milestones were advised not to see music as a hobby, but to put themselves out there. Staying passive was not going to be an option.
Establishing the business from the ground up was a hands-on learning experience and no easy feat for the band. The members outline some of the most significant steps to starting up a band. First step is threefold: find a genre the players love, write their own music, and, as Ohnmacht put it, “take pride in your band.” Constructing an identity and being passionate about it is essential. Next, invest in proper equipment early on: delaying this purchase impacts other important things down the line, like recording and performing.
A new band needs a few grand in startup money and must pay recurring expenses to perform at shows to get off the ground. Ohnmacht recommends to “save up the big money that comes in, it will come in handy. Don’t split it every time.” As true for any business, the band realized it needed to have a budget in mind. Additionally, learning to network soon with other bands, signing labels, and booking companies is the vital: Get to know other bands (for shoutouts) or a bar owner to get involved in the scene.
“We really didn’t know much in the beginning, we kind of figured out, based off prior knowledge, to book shows through other bands in the area,” Sarmiento said. “It wasn’t until a friend of a friend’s band told us about Light’s Out Booking that we started playing more shows, going through that company.
The band still works with the agency, which has led to Milestones opening for Hawthorne Heights.
All five members also recognize the necessity of marketing their band to gain fans. They market both through social media sites, like Facebook and Bandcamp, and through in-person promotion. The band members personally tell everyone they meet about the band in a serious and confident manner. “Treat every person like they’re a very important person to you and your career, and they’ll respect you,” Mitchell said. This confidence and serious attitude has been key to the band’s success: “[The] reason why we got so far such a short time [is] because we treat it like a big band, like a business,”Ohnmacht said.
To truly become, and remain, a presence in the music business, bands must become easily recognizable. The most direct way to achieve this effect is to present an official image on physical, purchasable items, such as CDs and other merchandise, for people to see and remember. This is the challenge currently facing the Milestones. They now have their own band stickers and are working on releasing their first extended play, Where the Wild Things Aren’t.
As for the near future, the band is looking forward to opening a concert for Slaves, another established post-hardcore band. The members also have another goal in mind: Warped Tour 2016. They trust that their up-and-coming merchandise will make them more widely recognized and help them get in the lineup.